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Influence from the Byzantine Empire impacted the Christianization and hence almost every aspect of the cultural and political development of the East from the preeminence of Caesaropapism and Eastern Christianity to the spread of the Cyrillic alphabet. The turmoil of the so-called Barbarian invasions in the beginning of the period gradually gave way to more stabilized societies and states as the origins of contemporary Eastern Europe began to take shape during the High Middle Ages. Magyar region. Turkic and Iranian invaders from Central Asia pressured the agricultural populations both in the Byzantine Balkans and in Central Europe creating a number of successor states in the Pontic steppes.

The Khazars were a nomadic Turkic people who managed to develop a multiethnic commercial state which owed its success to the control of much of the waterway trade between Europe and Central Asia. Through a network of Jewish itinerant merchants, or Radhanites , they were in contact with the trade emporia of India and Spain. Once they found themselves confronted by Arab expansionism , the Khazars pragmatically allied themselves with Constantinople and clashed with the Caliphate.

Despite initial setbacks, they managed to recover Derbent and eventually penetrated as far south as Caucasian Iberia , Caucasian Albania and Armenia. In doing so, they effectively blocked the northward expansion of Islam into Eastern Europe even before khan Tervel achieved the same at the Second Arab Siege of Constantinople and several decades before the Battle of Tours in Western Europe. Islam eventually penetrated into Eastern Europe in the s when Volga Bulgaria exploited the decline of Khazar power in the region to adopt Islam from the Baghdad missionaries.

The state religion of Khazaria, Judaism , disappeared as a political force with the fall of Khazaria, while Islam of Volga Bulgaria has survived in the region up to the present. In the beginning of the period the Slavic tribes started to expand aggressively into Byzantine possessions on the Balkans. The first attested Slavic polities were Serbia and Great Moravia , the latter of which emerged under the aegis of the Frankish Empire in the early 9th century.

Great Moravia was ultimately overrun by the Magyars , who invaded the Pannonian Basin around The Slavic state became a stage for confrontation between the Christian missionaries from Constantinople and Rome. Although West Slavs , Croats and Slovenes eventually acknowledged Roman ecclesiastical authority, the clergy of Constantinople succeeded in converting to Eastern Christianity two of the largest states of early medieval Europe, Bulgaria around , and Kievan Rus' circa In the Bulgars founded a powerful and ethnically diverse state that played a defining role in the history of early medieval Southeastern Europe.

Bulgaria withstood the pressure from Pontic steppe tribes like the Pechenegs , Khazars , and Cumans , and in destroyed the Avar Khanate. The Danube Bulgars were quickly slavicized and, despite constant campaigning against Constantinople, accepted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire. Through the efforts of missionaries Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius , [35] the Bulgarian Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets were developed in the capital Preslav and a vernacular dialect, now known as Old Bulgarian or Old Church Slavonic , was established as the language of books and liturgy among Orthodox Christian Slavs.

After the adoption of Christianity in , Bulgaria became a cultural and spiritual hub of the Eastern Orthodox Slavic world. The Cyrillic script was developed by Bulgarian scholar Clement of Ohrid in and was afterwards introduced to Serbia and Kievan Rus'. Literature, art, and architecture were thriving with the establishment of the Preslav and Ohrid Literary Schools along with the distinct Preslav Ceramics School. In the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was the first European national Church to gain independence with its own Patriarch while conducting services in the vernacular Old Church Slavonic.

Under Simeon I — , the state was the largest and one of the most powerful political entities of Europe, and it consistently threatened the existence of the Byzantine empire. From the middle of the 10th century Bulgaria was in decline as it entered a social and spiritual turmoil. It was in part due to Simeon's devastating wars, but was also exacerbated by a series of successful Byzantine military campaigns. Bulgaria was conquered after a long resistance in Led by a Varangian dynasty, the Kievan Rus' controlled the routes connecting Northern Europe to Byzantium and to the Orient for example: the Volga trade route.

The Kievan state began with the rule — of Prince Oleg , who extended his control from Novgorod southwards along the Dnieper river valley in order to protect trade from Khazar incursions from the east and moved his capital to the more strategic Kiev.

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Sviatoslav I died achieved the first major expansion of Kievan Rus' territorial control, fighting a war of conquest against the Khazar Empire and inflicting a serious blow on Bulgaria. A Rus' attack or , instigated by the Byzantines, led to the collapse of the Bulgarian state and the occupation of the east of the country by the Rus'. An ensuing direct military confrontation between the Rus' and Byzantium ended with a Byzantine victory The Rus' withdrew and the Byzantine Empire incorporated eastern Bulgaria.

Both before and after their conversion to Christianity conventionally dated under Vladimir I of Kiev —known as Vladimir the Great , the Rus' also embarked on predatory military campaigns against the Byzantine Empire, some of which resulted in trade treaties.

The importance of Russo-Byzantine relations to Constantinople was highlighted by the fact that Vladimir I of Kiev, son of Svyatoslav I, became the only foreigner to marry a Byzantine princess of the Macedonian dynasty which ruled the Eastern Roman Empire from to , a singular honour sought in vain by many other rulers. With the end of the Western Roman Empire and with urban centres in decline, literacy and learning decreased in the West.

This continued a pattern that had been underway since the 3rd century. Much of the Greek literary corpus remained in Greek, and few in the west could speak or read Greek. In this sense, education was not lost so much as it had yet to be acquired. Education did ultimately continue, and was centred in the monasteries and cathedrals. A "Renaissance" of classical education would appear in Carolingian Empire in the 8th century. In the Eastern Roman Empire Byzantium , learning in the sense of formal education involving literature was maintained at a higher level than in the West.

The classical education system, which would persist for hundreds of years, emphasized grammar, Latin, Greek, and rhetoric. Pupils read and reread classic works and wrote essays imitating their style.

By the 4th century, this education system was Christianized. In De Doctrina Christiana started , completed , Augustine explained how classical education fits into the Christian worldview: Christianity is a religion of the book, so Christians must be literate.

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Tertullian was more skeptical of the value of classical learning, asking "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? De-urbanization reduced the scope of education, and by the 6th century teaching and learning moved to monastic and cathedral schools, with the study of biblical texts at the centre of education. In the 7th century, however, learning expanded in Ireland and the Celtic lands, where Latin was a foreign language and Latin texts were eagerly studied and taught. In the ancient world, Greek was the primary language of science.

Advanced scientific research and teaching was mainly carried on in the Hellenistic side of the Roman empire, and in Greek. Late Roman attempts to translate Greek writings into Latin had limited success. For a time, Latin-speakers who wanted to learn about science had access to only a couple of books by Boethius c. Saint Isidore of Seville produced a Latin encyclopedia in Private libraries would have existed, and monasteries would also keep various kinds of texts. The study of nature was pursued more for practical reasons than as an abstract inquiry: the need to care for the sick led to the study of medicine and of ancient texts on drugs; [41] the need for monks to determine the proper time to pray led them to study the motion of the stars; [42] and the need to compute the date of Easter led them to study and teach mathematics and the motions of the Sun and Moon.

In the late 8th century, there was renewed interest in Classical Antiquity as part of the Carolingian Renaissance. Charlemagne carried out a reform in education. The English monk Alcuin of York elaborated a project of scholarly development aimed at resuscitating classical knowledge by establishing programs of study based upon the seven liberal arts : the trivium , or literary education grammar , rhetoric , and dialectic , and the quadrivium , or scientific education arithmetic , geometry , astronomy , and music. From on, decrees began to circulate recommending the restoration of old schools and the founding of new ones across the empire.

Institutionally, these new schools were either under the responsibility of a monastery monastic schools , a cathedral , or a noble court.

Early Middle Ages

The teaching of dialectic a discipline that corresponds to today's logic was responsible for the increase in the interest in speculative inquiry; from this interest would follow the rise of the Scholastic tradition of Christian philosophy. In the 12th and 13th centuries, many of those schools founded under the auspices of Charlemagne, especially cathedral schools , would become universities. Byzantium's great intellectual achievement was the Corpus Juris Civilis "Body of Civil Law" , a massive compilation of Roman law made under Justinian r.

The work includes a section called the Digesta which abstracts the principles of Roman law in such a way that they can be applied to any situation. The level of literacy was considerably higher in the Byzantine Empire than in the Latin West. Elementary education was much more widely available, sometimes even in the countryside. Secondary schools still taught the Iliad and other classics. As for higher education, the Neoplatonic Academy in Athens was closed in There was also a school in Alexandria which remained open until the Arab conquest Higher education in this period focused on rhetoric, although Aristotle 's logic was covered in simple outline.

Under the Macedonian dynasty — , Byzantium enjoyed a golden age and a revival of classical learning. There was little original research, but many lexicons, anthologies, encyclopedias, and commentaries. In the course of the 11th century, Islam's scientific knowledge began to reach Western Europe, via Islamic Spain. The modern Hindu-Arabic numeral system , including a notation for zero, were developed by Hindu mathematicians in the 5th and 6th centuries.


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Muslim mathematicians learned of it in the 7th century and added a notation for decimal fractions in the 9th and 10th centuries. Monasteries were targeted in the eighth and ninth centuries by Vikings who invaded the coasts of northern Europe. They were targeted not only because they stored books but also precious objects that were looted by invaders. In the earliest monasteries, there were no special rooms set aside as a library, but from the sixth century onwards libraries became an essential aspect of monastic life in the Western Europe.

The Benedictines placed books in the care of a librarian who supervised their use. In some monastic reading rooms, valuable books would be chained to shelves, but there were also lending sections as well. Copying was also another important aspect of monastic libraries, this was undertaken by resident or visiting monks and took place in the scriptorium. In the Byzantine world, religious houses rarely maintained their own copying centres. Instead they acquired donations from wealthy donors.

In the tenth century, the largest collection in the Byzantine world was found in the monasteries of Mount Athos modern-day Greece , which accumulated over 10, books. Scholars travelled from one monastery to another in search of the texts they wished to study. Travelling monks were often given funds to buy books, and certain monasteries which held a reputation for intellectual activities welcomed travelling monks who came to copy manuscripts for their own libraries. One of these was the monastery of Bobbio in Italy, which was founded by the Irish abbot St. Columba in , and by the ninth century boasted a catalogue of manuscripts, including religious works, classical texts, histories and mathematical treatises.

From the early Christians , early medieval Christians inherited a church united by major creeds, a stable Biblical canon, and a well-developed philosophical tradition. The history of medieval Christianity traces Christianity during the Middle Ages—the period after the fall of the Roman Empire until the Protestant Reformation.

The institutional structure of Christianity in the west during this period is different from what it would become later in the Middle Ages. As opposed to the later church, the church of the early Middle Ages consisted primarily of the monasteries. In addition, the papacy was relatively weak, and its power was mostly confined to central Italy. For the typical Christian at this time, religious participation was largely confined to occasionally receiving mass from wandering monks.

Few would be lucky enough to receive this as often as once a month. During the early Middle Ages, the divide between Eastern and Western Christianity widened, paving the way for the East-West Schism in the 11th century. In the West, the power of the Bishop of Rome expanded. Pope Gregory the Great used his office as a temporal power, expanded Rome's missionary efforts to the British Isles, and laid the foundations for the expansion of monastic orders. Roman church traditions and practices gradually replaced local variants, including Celtic Christianity in Great Britain and Ireland.

Various barbarian tribes went from raiding and pillaging the island to invading and settling. They were entirely pagan, having never been part of the Empire, though they experienced Christian influence from the surrounding peoples, such as those who were converted by the mission of St. Augustine of Canterbury , sent by Pope Gregory the Great. In the East, the conquests of Islam reduced the power of the Greek-speaking patriarchates.

The Catholic Church , the only centralized institution to survive the fall of the Western Roman Empire intact, was the sole unifying cultural influence in the West, preserving Latin learning, maintaining the art of writing, and preserving a centralized administration through its network of bishops ordained in succession. The Early Middle Ages are characterized by the urban control of bishops and the territorial control exercised by dukes and counts. The rise of urban communes marked the beginning of the High Middle Ages.

The Christianization of Germanic tribes began in the 4th century with the Goths and continued throughout the Early Middle Ages, led in the 6th to 7th centuries by the Hiberno-Scottish mission and replaced in the 8th to 9th centuries by the Anglo-Saxon mission , with Anglo-Saxons like Alcuin playing an important role in the Carolingian renaissance. He helped shape Western Christianity, and many of the dioceses he proposed remain until today. After his martyrdom, he was quickly hailed as a saint. Listless and often ill, Carolingian Emperor Charles the Fat provoked an uprising, led by his nephew Arnulf of Carinthia , which resulted in the division of the empire in into the kingdoms of France, Germany, and northern Italy.

The German nobles elected Henry the Fowler , duke of Saxony, as their king at a Reichstag, or national assembly, in Fritzlar in Henry's power was only marginally greater than that of the other leaders of the stem duchies, which were the feudal expression of the former German tribes. Henry's son King Otto I r. In , Otto marched into Italy and married the widowed Queen Adelaide , named himself king of the Lombards, and received homage from Berengar of Ivrea , king of Italy r. Otto named his relatives the new leaders of the stem duchies, but this approach did not completely solve the problem of disloyalty.

His son Liudolf, duke of Swabia, revolted and welcomed the Magyars into Germany At Lechfeld , near Augsburg in Bavaria, Otto caught up with the Magyars while they were enjoying a razzia and achieved a signal victory in The Magyars ceased living on plunder, and their leaders created a Christian kingdom called Hungary The defeat of the Magyars greatly enhanced Otto's prestige. He marched into Italy again and was crowned emperor imperator augustus by Pope John XII in Rome , an event that historians count as the founding of the Holy Roman Empire , although the term was not used until much later.

The Ottonian state is also considered the first Reich, or German Empire. Otto used the imperial title without attaching it to any territory. He and later emperors thought of themselves as part of a continuous line of emperors that begins with Charlemagne. Several of these "emperors" were simply local Italian magnates who bullied the pope into crowning them.

Berengar was captured and taken to Germany. John was able to reverse the deposition after Otto left, but he died in the arms of his mistress soon afterwards. Besides founding the German Empire, Otto's achievements include the creation of the "Ottonian church system," in which the clergy the only literate section of the population assumed the duties of an imperial civil service. He raised the papacy out of the muck of Rome's local gangster politics, assured that the position was competently filled, and gave it a dignity that allowed it to assume leadership of an international church.

Speculation that the world would end in the year was confined to a few uneasy French monks. The use of the modern "anno domini" system of dating was confined to the Venerable Bede and other chroniclers of universal history. Western Europe remained less developed compared to the Islamic world, with its vast network of caravan trade, or China, at this time the world's most populous empire under the Song Dynasty.

Constantinople had a population of about ,, but Rome had a mere 35, and Paris 20, The Vikings had a trade network in northern Europe, including a route connecting the Baltic to Constantinople through Russia, as did the Radhanites. With nearly the entire nation freshly ravaged by the Vikings, England was in a desperate state. The long-suffering English later responded with a massacre of Danish settlers in , leading to a round of reprisals and finally to Danish rule , though England regained independence shortly after.

But Christianization made rapid progress and proved itself the long-term solution to the problem of barbarian raiding. The territories of Scandinavia were soon to be fully Christianized Kingdoms: Denmark in the 10th century, Norway in the 11th, and Sweden , the country with the least raiding activity, in the 12th. Kievan Rus , recently converted to Orthodox Christianity, flourished as the largest state in Europe. In Europe, a formalized institution of marriage was established.

The proscribed degree of the degree of consanguinity varied, but the custom made marriages annullable by application to the Pope. Deforestation of the densely wooded continent was under way. The 10th century marked a return of urban life, with the Italian cities doubling in population. London , abandoned for many centuries, was again England's main economic centre by By , Bruges and Ghent held regular trade fairs behind castle walls, a tentative return of economic life to western Europe.

In the culture of Europe, several features surfaced soon after that mark the end of the Early Middle Ages: the rise of the medieval communes , the reawakening of city life, and the appearance of the burgher class , the founding of the first universities , the rediscovery of Roman law , and the beginnings of vernacular literature. In , the papacy was firmly under the control of German Emperor Otto III , or "emperor of the world" as he styled himself.

But later church reforms enhanced its independence and prestige: the Cluniac movement , the building of the first great Transalpine stone cathedrals and the collation of the mass of accumulated decretals into a formulated canon law. The rise of Islam begins around the time Muhammad and his followers took flight, the Hijra , to the city of Medina.

Muhammad spent his last ten years in a series of battles to conquer the Arabian region. From to , Muhammad as the leader of a Muslim community in Medina was engaged in a state of war with the Meccans. In the proceeding decades, the area of Basra was conquered by the Muslims. During the reign of Umar , the Muslim army found it a suitable place to construct a base. Later the area was settled and a mosque was erected. Madyan was conquered and settled by Muslims, but the environment was considered harsh and the settlers moved to Kufa. Umar defeated the rebellion of several Arab tribes in a successful campaign, unifying the entire Arabian peninsula and giving it stability.

Under Uthman 's leadership, the empire, through the Muslim conquest of Persia , expanded into Fars in , some areas of Khorasan in , and the conquest of Armenia was begun in the s. In this time, the Islamic empire extended over the whole Sassanid Persian Empire and to more than two-thirds of the Eastern Roman Empire. After the recorded peace treaty with Hassan ibn Ali and the suppression of early Kharijites ' disturbances, Muawiyah I acceded to the position of Caliph. Starting in , Muslims conquered Iraq. The Muslim conquest of Syria would begin in and would be complete by The Muslim conquest of Egypt started in The Muslims would bring Alexandria under control and the fall of Egypt would be complete by Between and , Muslims swept across North Africa and established their authority over that region.

The Transoxiana region was conquered by Qutayba ibn Muslim between and and loosely held by the Umayyads from to This conquest was consolidated by Nasr ibn Sayyar between and It was under the Umayyads from and under the Abbasids after Sindh , attacked in , would be subjugated by Sindh became the easternmost province of the Umayyad. The Umayyad conquest of Hispania Visigothic Spain would begin in and end by The Moors , under Al-Samh ibn Malik , swept up the Iberian peninsula and by overran Septimania ; the area would fall under their full control in With the Islamic conquest of Persia , the Muslim subjugation of the Caucasus would take place between and The end of the sudden Islamic Caliphate expansion ended around this time.

At the end of the 8th century, the former Western Roman Empire was decentralized and overwhelmingly rural. The Islamic conquest and rule of Sicily and Malta was a process which started in the 9th century. Islamic rule over Sicily was effective from , and the complete rule of the island lasted from until The Islamic presence on the Italian Peninsula was ephemeral and limited mostly to semi-permanent soldier camps. The Abbasid Caliphate , ruled by the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs, was the third of the Islamic caliphates.

Under the Abbasids, the Islamic Golden Age philosophers, scientists, and engineers of the Islamic world contributed enormously to technology, both by preserving earlier traditions and by adding their own inventions and innovations. Scientific and intellectual achievements blossomed in the period. The Abbasids built their capital in Baghdad after replacing the Umayyad caliphs from all but the Iberian peninsula. The influence held by Muslim merchants over African-Arabian and Arabian-Asian trade routes was tremendous.

As a result, Islamic civilization grew and expanded on the basis of its merchant economy, in contrast to their Christian, Indian, and Chinese peers who built societies from an agricultural landholding nobility. The Abbasids flourished for two centuries but slowly went into decline with the rise to power of the Turkish army they had created, the Mamluks.

Within years of gaining control of Persia, the caliphs were forced to cede power to local dynastic emirs who only nominally acknowledged their authority. The Sunni Islam empire was a Tajik state and had a Zoroastrian theocratic nobility. It was the next native Persian dynasty after the collapse of the Sassanid Persian empire, caused by the Arab conquest. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Period of European history between the 5th and 10th centuries CE.

Early Middle Ages. Main article: Fall of the Western Roman Empire. The Barbarians' Invasions. The destruction of the Gothic kingdoms by the Huns in — triggered the Germanic migrations of the 5th century. This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. Main articles: Migration Period and Germanic monarchy.

Migration Period. The Mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna is the only extant example of Ostrogothic architecture. Main article: Byzantine Empire. Byzantine Empire. Byzantium under the Justinian dynasty Under Emperor Justinian r. This article's tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia. See Wikipedia's guide to writing better articles for suggestions.

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May Learn how and when to remove this template message. Charlemagne's Coronation. Main articles: Feudalism and Manoralism. Main article: Viking Age. Magyar tribes. Main article: First Bulgarian Empire. Main article: Kievan Rus'. Christian monasticism. Main article: History of science in the Middle Ages. Macedonian Byzantium. Miniature from the Paris Psalter Byzantium in the 10th century experienced a wide-scale cultural revival. Further information: Christianity in the 6th century , Christianity in the 7th century , and Christianity in the 8th century. Medieval Christians.

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Sacramentarium Gelasianum. Frontispiece of Incipit from the Vatican manuscript. St Boniface - Baptism and Martyrdom. Main article: Christianization. Main article: Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire. Further information: Main article: Muslim history. Rise of Islam. Main article: Umayyad Caliphate. Rashidun Caliphate, — Umayyad Caliphate, — Main article: Abbasid Caliphate. Further information: Timeline of the Middle Ages. Middle Ages portal History portal. That the Arab conquests were part of a much vaster and more protracted drama, the decline and fall of the Roman empire, has been too readily forgotten.

Place these conquests in their proper context and a different narrative emerges. Heeding the lesson taught by Gibbon back in the 18th century, that the barbarian invasions of Europe and the victories of the Saracens were different aspects of the same phenomenon, serves to open up vistas of drama unhinted at by the traditional Muslim narratives.

The landscape through which the Magaritai rode was certainly not unique to Egypt. In the west too, there were provinces that had witnessed the retreat and collapse of a superpower, the depredations of foreign invaders, and the desperate struggle of locals to fashion a new security for themselves. Only in the past few decades has this perspective been restored to its proper place in the academic spotlight. It was the last half-century in which that could be said.

First published in , it portrayed a galactic imperium on the verge of collapse, and the attempt by an enlightened band of scientists to insure that eventual renaissance would follow its fall. The influence of the novel, and its two sequels, has been huge, and can be seen in every subsequent sci-fi epic that portrays sprawling empires set among the stars — from Star Wars to Battlestar Galactica.

Unlike most of his epigoni, however, Asimov drew direct sustenance from his historical model. The parabola of Asimov's narrative closely follows that of Gibbon. Plenipotentiaries visit imperial outposts for the last time; interstellar equivalents of Frankish or Ostrogothic kingdoms sprout on the edge of the Milky Way; the empire, just as its Roman precursor had done under Justinian, attempts a comeback.


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Most intriguingly of all, in the second novel of the series, we are introduced to an enigmatic character named the Mule, who emerges seemingly from nowhere to transform the patterns of thought of billions, and conquer much of the galaxy. Parallels with the tales told of Muhammad are self-evident in a second great epic of interstellar empire, Frank Herbert's Dune. A prophet arises from the depths of a desert world to humiliate an empire and launch a holy war — a jihad. Herbert's hero, Paul Atreides, is a man whose sense of supernatural mission is shadowed by self-doubt.

Without ever quite intending it, he founds a new religion, and launches a wave of conquest that ends up convulsing the galaxy. In the end, we know, there will be "only legend, and nothing to stop the jihad". There is an irony in this, an echo not only of the spectacular growth of the historical caliphate, but of how the traditions told about Muhammad evolved as well. Ibn Hisham's biography may have been the first to survive — but it was not the last. As the years went by, and ever more lives of the Prophet came to be written, so the details grew ever more miraculous. Fresh evidence — wholly unsuspected by Muhammad's earliest biographers — would see him revered as a man able to foretell the future, to receive messages from camels, and to pick up a soldier's eyeball, reinsert it, and make it work better than before.

The result was yet one more miracle: the further in time from the Prophet a biographer, the more extensive his biography was likely to be. Herbert's novel counterpoints snatches of unreliable biography — in which Paul has become "Muad'Dib", the legendary "Dune Messiah" — with the main body of the narrative, which reveals a more secular truth. Such, of course, is the prerogative of fiction. Nevertheless, it does suggest, for the historian, an unsettling question: to what extent might the traditions told by Muslims about their prophet contradict the actual reality of the historical Muhammad?

Nor is it only western scholars who are prone to asking this — so too, for instance, are Salafists, keen as they are to strip away the accretions of centuries, and reveal to the faithful the full unspotted purity of the primal Muslim state. But what if, after all the cladding has been torn down, there is nothing much left, beyond the odd receipt for sheep? That Muhammad existed is evident from the scattered testimony of Christian near-contemporaries, and that the Magaritai themselves believed a new order of time to have been ushered in is clear from their mention of a "Year 22".

But do we see in the mirror held up by Ibn Hisham, and the biographers who followed him, an authentic reflection of Muhammad's life — or something distorted out of recognition by a combination of awe and the passage of time? There may be a lack of early Muslim sources for Muhammad's life, but in other regions of the former Roman empire there are even more haunting silences.

The deepest of all, perhaps, is the one that settled over the one-time province of Britannia. Around AD, at the same time as Ibn Hisham was drawing up a list of nine engagements in which Muhammad was said personally to have fought, a monk in the far distant wilds of Wales was compiling a very similar record of victories, 12 in total, all of them attributable to a single leader, and cast by their historian as indubitable proof of the blessings of God.

The name of the monk was Nennius; and the name of his hero — who was supposed to have lived long before — was Arthur. The British warlord, like the Arab prophet, was destined to have an enduring afterlife. The same centuries which would see Muslim historians fashion ever more detailed and loving histories of Muhammad and his companions would also witness, far beyond the frontiers of the caliphate, the gradual transformation of the mysterious Arthur and his henchmen into the model of a Christian court.

The battles listed by Nennius would come largely to be forgotten: in their place, haunting the imaginings of all Christendom, would be the conviction that there had once existed a realm where the strong had protected the weak, where the bravest warriors had been the purest in heart, and where a sense of Christian fellowship had bound everyone to the upholding of a common order.

The ideal was to prove a precious one — so much so that to this day, there remains a mystique attached to the name of Camelot. Nor was the world of Arthur the only dimension of magic and mystery to have emerged out of the shattered landscape of the one-time Roman empire. The English, the invaders against whom Arthur was supposed to have fought, told their own extraordinary tales. Gawping at the crumbling masonry of Roman towns, they saw in it "the work of giants". These stories, in turn, were only a part of the great swirl of epic, Gothic and Frankish and Norse, which preserved in their verses the memory of terrible battles, and mighty kings, and the rise and fall of empires: trace-elements of the death-agony of Roman greatness.

Most of these poems, though, like the kingdoms that were so often their themes, no longer exist. They are fragments, or mere rumours of fragments. The wonder-haunted fantasies of post-Roman Europe have themselves become spectres and phantasms. So wrote JRR Tolkien, philologist, scholar of Old English, and a man so convinced of the abiding potency of the vanished world of epic that he devoted his life to conjuring it back into being.

The Lord of the Rings may not be an allegory of the fall of the Roman empire, but it is shot through with echoes of the sound and fury of that "awful scene". What happened and what might have happened swirl, and meet, and merge. An elf quotes a poem on an abandoned Roman town. Horsemen with Old English names ride to the rescue of a city that is vast and beautiful, and yet, like Constantinople in the wake of the Arab conquests, "falling year by year into decay".

Armies of a Dark Lord repeat the strategy of Attila in the battle of the Catalaunian plains — and suffer a similar fate.

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Tolkien's ambition, so Tom Shippey has written, "was to give back to his own country the legends that had been taken from it". In the event, his achievement was something even more startling. Such was the popularity of The Lord of the Rings , and such its influence on an entire genre of fiction, that it breathed new life into what for centuries had been the merest bones of an entire but forgotten worldscape.

It would seem, then, that when an empire as great as Rome's declines and falls, the reverberations can be made to echo even in outer space, even in a mythical Middle Earth. In the east as in the west, in the Fertile Crescent as in Britain, what emerged from the empire's collapse, forged over many centuries, were new identities, new values, new presumptions.

Indeed, many of these would end up taking on such a life of their own that the very circumstances of their birth would come to be obscured — and on occasion forgotten completely. The age that had witnessed the collapse of Roman power, refashioned by those looking back to it centuries later in the image of their own times, was cast by them as one of wonders and miracles, irradiated by the supernatural, and by the bravery of heroes.

The potency of that vision is one that still blazes today.